Milena turned away from Sally.
“It’s not my decision!” the other woman protested.
Milena just threw up her hands and stormed away. If she stayed, she would slap her. Dani tried to get her attention, but she ignored her. It was childish, perhaps, but by the Sisters, if she had to talk to anyone from the League right now, she’d end up screaming their head off.
Instead she stormed into Aaron’s former house, now an empty shell, and slammed the front door after herself. Aaron, who was in the living room, looking out the window, started at the sound. When he saw the scowl on her face, he sighed and turned away.
“They rejected your application again?”
“Yes!” She stomped the floor, her hands balled into fists. It was childish, but it felt good. “It’s so frustrating. I looked through a bunch of older cases that are like yours and they almost all got the permission to tell. I sent it along with my application and…” She let out a frustrated cry. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with their stupid heads!”
Aaron just smiled at her for a moment, then turned away.
“I appreciate you trying, Milena, but there’s no need. You’ve already helped me a great deal.”
She calmed down a bit, not willing to admit that it wasn’t just for his sake. If they found out she’d told him without permission, she would be in a world of trouble.
“Yeah, well, they’re being dumb. They should want to help you, too.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
He went quiet again. It left her wanting to shake him.
“Please, start smiling again!” she wanted to scream at him.
The past two weeks he’d been more quiet than ever. He had gone about finding a new house and selling the old one without many emotions. She wondered if she had been right to tell him about the Lover’s Talent or if that was what had broken him. Maybe it was just melancholy about selling the house. Maybe it was just because he had almost been murdered. Again.
Milena cleared her throat.
“I’d better go to the new house,” she said. “Gotta… check for assassins under the bed.”
It was the saddest excuse for humour she’d ever heard. He just nodded.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
The words sounded as hollow as his footsteps in the empty house.
The new house was smaller. It was situated a few streets away from the old one, and separated from view by a small copse of oak trees. Aaron liked it that way. It was there, in the past, always a part of him – but he didn’t need to look at it.
Milena walked ahead of him into the house, looking around before holding the door open to him.
“You weren’t joking about assassins under the bed, huh?” he asked.
“I wish I were.”
The darkness in her voice sent shivers down his spine. It reminded him that Siobhan and Nate got away. There was a reason Milena and the others were still here, and that reason was not just to act as a cheap moving service.
Dani and Janus had walked ahead of them; they were still checking under furniture and behind doors, as though they expected Siobhan to jump out and scream “Boo!”
Once they were done, they told him to just go about business as usual.
“I’ll… go work, then.” He smiled weakly at the three and went to his office.
As he was closing the door, he heard the them discussing whether they should have guards outside the windows, too. He slammed the door hard, deriving some sort of childish pleasure from the thought of scaring them. It was unfair, and he knew it.
But they were hovering around him constantly. He was sure he could hear someone breathing right outside the door, and soon after he had sat down, Dani’s head bobbed past his windows. Back, forth, back, forth… Sometimes she took a break from walking back and forth and then… straight back at it. It was impossible to work when she was out there and he was just about to go out there and tell them to relax it a bit, when there was a knock on the door.
Milena slipped in, and his annoyance relaxed a little.
Whenever the two were alone, she answered his questions.
“So, you’re hard at work?” she asked. She walked in and sat down.
“I was sort of distracted by Dani, actually.” He pointed out the window. “That’s going to get old.”
She winced. “I know. I’m so sorry, but because we don’t know why you’re being targeted…”
“I know, I know. You don’t understand why there are Talented Ones after me.”
“No, we don’t. That’s why I thought we could talk about those university friends again. You went to Greenford University, right?”
Aaron sighed. “We’ve been over this so many times by now…”
Milena stopped him. “Look, I have an idea.”
She pulled a small vial of liquid out of her pocket with a sheepish smile. He only knew that it was one of the potions that the Talented used, but he didn’t know enough of them to tell which one. Contrary to what he had imagined, they weren’t neatly colour-coded. Most of them looked like vials of iced tea or lemon juice. This one was cloudy with a faint yellow colour.
“It’s a Reader’s potion.”
“Do you mean a mindreading potion?”
She nodded and bit her lip. “See, I had hoped that they would approve my application and then we could call in a Reader – or use Sally – to help us in the investigation, but I guess I’ll have to do.”
His heart sank, and his head almost immediately started to throb.
“You want to read my mind?”
“I don’t particularly want to. I think I’ve already said I’m a shitty mind reader. So what’s probably going to happen is I mostly just… look at your thoughts a bit while you tell me about your friends again.”
He turned his head to look at Dani’s head that was bobbing past.
“What happens if they find out you’ve done this?”
“Best not to think about it.”
On the one hand, he didn’t like the idea of anybody reading his mind. On the other hand, this might be their only chance of finding out what was going on.
He sighed deeply. “Okay, let’s do it.”
Late that evening, when they were sure Dani and Janus were sleeping, they sat down in Aaron’s bedroom on the bed, and Milena downed the Reader’s potion. Her face contorted as she swallowed it. By the sisters’ light, she hated this one.
“How does it taste?” he asked.
“A bit like bile.” She shivered. “It’s because it’s eh… not strictly speaking a registered potion.”
Aaron raised an eyebrow. She left out a couple of details, but told him that basically the League made their potions. Because they couldn’t know that Aaron knew, she hadn’t wanted to ask them for a potion she would normally never use – every time you asked for another vial, you had to tell them what it was for, give them a case number and so on. Normally, she had to be threatened with bodily harm before she would willingly read minds, and asking for one would raise suspicions.
“So I went to a… friend of mine, who… sells them.”
Not one look from him could make her say more, even though he certainly tried to pry it out of her. That was her secret, though. She pushed it to the back of her mind and reminded herself that this time her use of illegal potions was a good thing. It was technically criminal, but she did it for a good cause.
They turned to face each other.
“For this to work, I need to hold your hand,” she said, reaching out a hand.
“Nate didn’t touch me.”
She shrugged. “Remember: Shitty mind reader. Skin contact for some reason makes it easier, even if you’re good. I’m bad – I haven’t got a chance of doing it without.”
He took her hand in his then and looked at her.
Don’t think about it, don’t think about it…
She did anyway, and the skin contact made her cheeks glow.
“So, what’s next?” he asked. “You light incense and tell me to close my eyes and… swing a pendulum over my head?”
She smiled. “Just talk. Talking about stuff makes you think about it, and I need you to really focus your thoughts on your friends so that I can see and feel it all.”
Aaron took a deep breath, nodded and started talking. Meanwhile, she listened in on his thoughts. She could just faintly see the image he had of his friends in his head. A better mind reader would have seen them clearly. The words in his mind weren’t much clearer, though she could glean that he had a headache by now.
Milena bit her lip. “Sorry about the headache. I’m so bad at this.”
He nodded, but otherwise ignored her and kept talking. Aaron and his friends had had a party together at Greg’s parents’ house, it was a house by the beach. He had a small group of friends back then, who were all there. More than anything, she could feel the ache of saying goodbye and his longing for those days.
“Tell me about the house and the party,” she said. “Remember everything in as much detail as possible.”
“Greg’s family had parties and vacations there. It was a lovely place. I had visited it once before where Greg and I were supposed to sleep on the sofa, but we ended up sleeping on the beach and woke up with severe hangovers…”
Milena lost connection with his thoughts for a moment, the image of that house burnt into her mind. It couldn’t be….
“Are you okay, or…?” Aaron gave her hand a little squeeze, and she shook out of it.
“Y-yeah, continue. Tell me more about that house.”
She focused her Talent and it became clearer to her eyes.
“Well, the house was pretty classy, as are his parents. I didn’t expect it, because Greg is really… outré in his fashion choices. A little bit of a Casanova, to be honest.” A face appeared in his mind, a very familiar face. “So, the house…”
Milena let go of his hands, like she had burnt herself.
Aaron put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay? Do you need a break?”
But she couldn’t hear him. It was starting to make sense.
Finally, she looked him in the eyes. “How do you know my brother?”
Author’s note: Hoooooleeeeee fudgeballs. I still exist! No, but really, I do. Might have mentioned last time that I’m super duper busy at the moment. Still am. Most of the time, writing just isn’t my first priority… or even my second or third. This chapter has taken so stupidly long to get out and as per usual I’m not satisfied. Though at least some stuff’s going to start happening, now!
Anyway, I hope you’re all doing super well and that there is lots of happiness in your lives as well 🙂